S.A: Hundreds of White Farmers going bust: Farmers meet to strategise against Land Bank liquidations

By Moneyweb 17 Aug 2022 01:19

Farmers from all over the country are meeting on Wednesday (17 August) to strategise against what they consider to be ill-considered debt collection measures by the Land Bank.

This is allegedly done to salvage the struggling state-owned bank’s finances after years of mismanagement. In the process, the bank is allegedly abandoning its unique mandate considering the fluctuations associated with the industry.

The Land Bank has denied this in a statement and says the first priority is always to assist debtors, and that liquidation or sequestration is the last option.

The Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai), which has arranged the meeting, disagrees.

Hundreds driven out of business

Saai chair Dr Theo de Jager says the organisation is aware of 150 farmers who are currently being subjected to such processes and another 300 who have already been put out of business over the past few years.

He says the bank’s conduct could bring agriculture in South Africa to its knees and affect food security.

He is also concerned about the impact on the economies of rural towns as job losses follow.

At the heart of the issue, he says, is that farmers are driven out of business for relatively small amounts of debt and despite the value of their assets far exceeding their liabilities.

Attorneys, liquidators and auctioneers mandated by the bank humiliate the farmers and their families to such an extent that they are being traumatised and some even consider suicide, Moneyweb was told.

A month ago Saai sent an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to the Land Bank to get detail on the total debtors’ book, all summonses issued, and all warrants of execution issued to debtors on behalf of the bank.

Saai now calls for such legal action to be immediately suspended “until a proper, independent investigation into irregularities, motives and modus operandi has been completed and to give those farmers who are liquidated and sequestrated for their debt to fraction of their net asset values an opportunity to save their livelihoods, their enterprises, and their dignity,” says De Jager.

‘Enough is enough’ Facebook page

Carel van der Merwe, a farmer from Van Wyksvlei in the Northern Cape who has also fallen victim, has started a Facebook page ‘Genoeg is Genoeg’ (Enough is Enough) where farmers can speak out about their experiences.

“Liquidators’ syndicates need to be investigated for all their work done in the past 20 years. They need to be targeted personally, and held personally accountable for fraud. For that, a special unit is needed,” he says on that platform.

Cois Harman from Zeerust, a fellow victim whose farming enterprise worth R14 million was liquidated for arrear debt of R4 million, says on the Facebook page that attorneys, advocates, liquidators and auctioneers – “also called jackals, wolves, hyenas and vultures” – see this as a business opportunity that they approach in a coordinated way.

Why no business rescue option for farmers?

Van der Merwe has launched a court application to have the Insolvency Act amended to extend business rescue to include trusts and natural persons as it is currently limited to companies. This excluded many farming enterprises.

Agricultural organisation TAU SA has applied to join the legal action as a friend of the court – and according to executive manager Bennie van Zyl is also assisting several farmers who are currently at risk of losing everything.

Van Zyl adds that financing agriculture is not the same as in other industries, pointing out that the Land Bank was founded to fulfil this unique role.

According to De Jager: “When the agri-businesses managed Land Bank’s debtors’ books, the bad debt was well below 1% in some cases. These institutions understand agricultural financing well, had proper relations with farmers, had capacity to manage and administrate these loans, had disaster risk mitigation mechanisms in place, and a constructive vision in the value chain.”

This changed in September 2020, he said. “Land Bank has taken back most of its book under suspicious circumstances with none of the above in place, leaving disaster and destruction in its wake,” he claims.

The Auditor-General qualified the Land Bank’s financial statements in 2021 due to, among other things, doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.

Land Bank responds …

Land Bank executive manager for strategy and communications Sydney Soundy says in a statement that an investigation it undertook in July – following “previous media claims of a similar nature” – found no evidence that it acted illegally, unethically or implemented inappropriate or illegal practices or actions in any case involving the bank and its clients.

He says the bank’s debt recovery activities and the securing of its assets are “always undertaken through applicable court processes”.

This is done in the interest of maintaining the bank’s financial sustainability to ensure the effectiveness of the Land Bank “for all farmers”.

Soundy says Land Bank clients are encouraged to contact the bank when they face challenges in meeting their loan repayment obligations to ensure that an assessment of potential solutions may be undertaken “to obviate the need” for the bank to resort to legal processes.

The bank deploys a range of “forbearance solutions” to restructure clients’ loan facilities and restore them from their default status, he says.

“The key objective of these forbearance measures is to help clients to get out of their default, and/or to prevent clients who are facing challenges from defaulting on their loan repayment commitments. These measures need to provide sustainable solutions to avoid losses for both the client and the Bank, or to keep the losses at a minimum level.”

Source: https://www.moneyweb.co.za/news/south-africa/farmers-meet-to-strategise-against-land-bank-liquidations/

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